Total Recall

The Michigan State Constitution, Art. II. Sec. 8, extends Michigan voters the right to recall “all elective officers except judges of courts of record” and establishes the minimum number of signatures required on a recall petition.  In fact, in Michigan, voters can work to recall elected Members of Congress.  The process by which to begin a recall is spelled out in MCL 168.951-976.

Before the physical process of collecting signatures begins, the language on the petition must first be approved by the County Election Commission, which can include the County Clerk, County Treasurer and Chief Judge of the Probate Court.  The petitioners submit reasons for the recall which must be based on the elected officials conduct in office. Once approved, signatures by qualified voters can be secured. Once a sufficient amount of signatures are obtained, the petitions can fie filed with either the Governor, Secretary of State or County Clerk, depending on the office the individual holds. Petitions cannot be filed until the person serves in office for 6 months and cannot be filed in the last 6 months of their term.  The signatures are then examined to see if the signor is a registered voter in that community.

If the signature requirement is met, the signatures can be challenged as to their origin. Once the challenged signatures have been resolved ballot language is prepared.

The reason for the recall election must be stated on the ballot in 200 words or less. Once the ballot language is approved, the elected official at the center of the recall may submit a statement, justifying their conduct, which also is limited to 200 words and will also be printed on the ballot.  The Board of State Canvassers or county clerk will then decided when to hold a special election.

In the last ten years, Michiganians have acted upon their (state) constitutional right, to recall elected officials, more and more. In fact, according to the website Ballotpedia, from “2005-early 2010, 700 recall petitions were filed in just three of Michigan’s counties: Wayne, Oakland and Macomb. The total of filed petitions rose each year since 2007. In Saginaw County, 141 recall attempts were launched in the 20 years from 1990-2010. Of the 141 announced recall attempts, 27 went to a vote, and 18 elected officials were removed from office.”

Sometimes candidates are successfully recalled, but not without tremendous efforts on the part of all the interests involved. In Wisconsin earlier this month, the process worked for some and did not for others. Recall drives indicate a strong partisan divide in governing individual states and communities. On one hand it is great to see democracy work as a dissatisfied electorate uses a process created in the constitution to register their concern and act upon it. On the other, it seems like a distraction and unnecessary expense with some easier way to work out ones differences and find consensus through controversy.

Under a parlimentary system, where the majority party governs a nation or province, it is the Parliament that passes a motion that if passed, the head of state no longer has the confidence of the appointed government. The head of state can then ask someone else to lead and form a government or call a general election to elect a new parliament, generally within a matter of months, as is now the case in Ontario. I am not sure if this is the best process either.

It seems to me that those elected to serve should work together as an elected body and create a framework by which they can operate and work together on a common agenda. They don’t have to agree to all the policies past, but they can agree on an overall path, i.e. things that create jobs, ensure financial security of the electorate and set us on path to fiscal stability. Regardless, the process by which candidates can be recalled works if precisely followed. While there is room for improvement, it is what we have to work with.

For more information on the recall process in Michigan, please contact Fraser Trebilcock attorney and lobbyist, Daniel Cherrin at or 1-800-748-0436. *The opinions express are those of the author and not the firm.

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